Recognising and dealing with feline urinary tract problems.
A modern day problem?
For some reason FLUTD (feline lower urinary tract disease) in cats seems to be on the increase and many experts seem to believe that it could be diet related. This seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable hypothesis given the food our cats now eat.
Many years ago, before the manufacture of proprietary cat foods was raised to its present form, cats were either left to feed themselves, by hunting if they were farm cats, or by their owners who bought or begged scraps from the butcher or fishmonger for their pets.
I remember those days and it may be rose-tinted of me but none of the cats of my youth ever suffered from bladder problems, fed as they were on the boiled lights (lungs), a waste product of animals butchered for their meat. (Unless you are a Scot when the lungs of sheep are used in haggis and you might have to fight the cats for them). In those days our cats were more likely to die in their beds of incredible old age.
Today, just as with the food we feed ourselves, the food we give our animals contains many unlikely ingredients; vegetable protein extracts, colourings and even ash. For heaven's sake, what is ash? No cat ever hunted for the sweepings from the Aga, or for parsnips for that matter.
But there is little doubt that today more and more cats are suffering from FLUTD and the most common culprit is crystals in the urine.
Different pee causes different crystals.
There are three main types of crystal formed in the bladder and the qualities of the urine determine which crystal is formed. If the cat's urine is alkaline, struvite crystals will form, if it is acidic then oxalate or urate crystals will be produced.
These crystals are mostly microscopic but when they move they can still block the urethra, which is especially dangerous in male cats because of the length of the urethra. If the cat cannot urinate, the condition becomes life-threatening and immediate surgery is needed which is the main method of dealing with oxalate or urate crystals.
Fortunately struvite crystals are easier to deal with and, as they are more common, veterinary science has formulated foods to successfully combat them. So, at the first signs of the aberrant behaviour signalling bladder distress or infection it is a relatively simple cure. I say relatively because as all cat owners know dosing cats, even with food, is anything but straightforward.
The signs of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease.
You really cannot miss these as the indicators for a bladder infection are glaringly obvious. The cat becomes restless, distressed and their behaviour becomes so far out of the norm that even the most unengaged cat owner cannot help but know something is wrong with their pet.
There are the frequent attempts at urination, strained, lengthy, not always successful and often accompanied by distressed miaowing. The cat leaves drops of watery blood wherever it has rested coupled with restless wandering and using bizarre and unusual places to urinate. If you have ever had a bladder infection yourself you will recognise some of these symptoms.
When my cat, The Toof, pictured below, had a bladder infection, he was smart enough to come to me to show me what the problem was. Not a particularly talkative little guy he came creeping across the grass, moaning miserably and fell on his side and lifted his back leg in front of me to show me the blood on his waterworks.This was obviously a cry of 'don't just stand there, do something!'
Ingeniously he later tried to cool the burning sensation in his 'bits' by resting them on the cold tiles in a discreet corner of the kitchen floor. Obviously a resourceful animal.
One cure for FLUTD.
Obviously the cure for the resulting infection was antibiotics but the urine sample sent to the lab pinpointed the underlying culprit, struvite crystals. These needed to be dissolved so the vet prescribed Hill's s/d, a canned cat food for short term use that acidifies the urine. This seems to be the ideal solution ... if your cat eats it. The Toof wouldn't. Nor would he drink the extra water needed to help flush out the crystals. So we reached a compromise with the food and I mixed the prescription food with small amounts of freshly cooked fish (being a Cornish cat he knows his fish).
Rehydrating him and flushing his urinary tract was more of a problem. In theory it's as easy as leaving little bowls of fresh water all over the place indoors and out (which is recommended for cats anyway) but it didn't work for me as The Toof seems to prefer found water, preferably the rainwater in dirty puddles and the birdbath. This however is probably a much smarter idea than drinking chlorine and the fluoride-laden tap water that is thought good enough for us humans as rainwater is obviously going to be more acidic than treated water. So maybe this was his own instinctive way of trying to re-acidify his system.
But as a precaution and as I needed to be sure he drank more water, and fast, I sat him on my lap and dribbled water into the side of his mouth through a plastic syringe, 100mls at a time. It says a lot for his tolerant nature that he allowed this, and it says a lot for my doting nature that probably another 100mls ended up soaking through my clothing. The antibiotic pills however were another thing altogether and this procedure did involve the usual form of firm-whilst-trying not-to-damage wrestling match with which all cat owners are familiar.
Follow-up care to prevent reoccurrence of FLUTD.
At the end of a couple of months on Hill's s/d the follow-up urine test showed there was now no sign of struvite crystals in his urine and what should have followed then was Hill's follow-up diet to make sure he didn't form more crystals, as some cats are prone to do.
Such prescriptive diets are expensive for people of limited resources and I really could not afford to do this for the rest of his, hopefully long, life. So I decided on a sort of intermediate regimen which currently consists of either fresh fish or meat scraps and the best supermarket brand of ready-made food I can afford.
I read all the labels assiduously, discounting any with vegetables, ash or high levels of magnesium which is also implicated in crystal formation. He is also fed on demand, little and often, as big meals increase the risk of alkaline overload in urine. The random water bowls are still dotted all over the garden and are all full of his tipple of choice, dirty rainwater. And the final factor is vigilance.
It's now a long time since he had the problem but of course, I still keep a beady eye on him for any signs of recurrence.
It is now over three years since The Toof had his bout of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease and despite him going back to ‘ordinary’ cat food it has shown no sign of recurring. As he had not suffered with it for the first three and a half years that he lived with us, this has led me to conjecture that there some stressful event may have led to the onset of the disease.
This is only anecdotal of course, but we had just moved house when he developed the problem and he had been extremely stressed by the move. Consequently I feel there may be, for some cats if not all, some link between stress and FLUTD.